There’s been a sighting of one of the rarest animals on the continent ― in a Colorado garage.
An endangered black-footed ferret, considered to be the rarest mammal in North America, made a “surprise appearance” in a Pueblo West homeowner’s garage on Monday, according to a Colorado Parks and Wildlife news release.
The unnamed homeowner called CPW about the furry visitor, and while waiting for officers to arrive, coaxed the animal into a box.
The home is located near the Walker Ranch, where CPW has been releasing black-footed ferrets on a prairie dog colony as part of a major conservation collaboration to restore their populations.
According to CPW’s release: “Since 2013, more than 120 black-footed ferrets have been released on the Walker Ranch by CPW biologists, who have invested extensive time and effort to monitor the colonies and distribute plague vaccine in hopes of protecting the black-footed ferrets and the prairie dogs, which is their primary source of food and shelter.”
By scanning the escaped ferret’s microchip, officers were able to determine it was one of nine black-footed ferrets recently released on the ranch.
With the blessing of the ranch owners, and after determining the animal was healthy, CPW officers took the box and “hiked deep into the prairie colony in the dark, opened the box and watched the ferret scurry into a prairie dog burrow,” CPW said.
“We don’t know exactly why this black-footed ferret left the colony,” said Ed Schmal, CPW conservation biologist. “We put them into prairie dog burrows but they may not stay. Sometimes they scramble around the colony to find the right home. This one might have gotten pushed out by other ferrets and it went looking for a new home. We really don’t know.”
Schmal said CPW has only received one other report of a black-footed ferret leaving the ranch, and he had never heard of one entering a structure like a garage.
“This is extremely rare,” he said. “Black-footed ferrets are nocturnal and extremely shy. For some reason, this one left the colony and was seeking shelter. We’re just glad it appeared healthy, not starving or sick, and we were able to capture it and return it to the colony.”
Black-footed ferrets rely heavily on prairie dogs, which are often treated as pests by farmers, for food. The extermination of prairie dogs in the 1900s led to the severe decline of the black-footed ferret population.